Terry A. Rondberg, D.C., President, World Chiropractic Alliance, Chandler, Arizona, responds: August 26, 1999

Years ago, a handful of people dared to raise their voices in protest over plans by the medical and pharmaceutical industries to promote mandatory vaccinations for school children.

For the most part, they were "alternative" health care professionals, such as doctors of chiropractic, and parents of children who had been killed or injured by vaccine reactions. They presented both clinical and anecdotal evidence showing that the vast majority of vaccines are unnecessary, ineffective, and potentially dangerous.

They explained that the vaccines are unnecessary because the body (when maintained properly) has an innate ability to guard against most diseases or to create its own immunization after one encounter with a particular illness, such as chicken pox.

By trying to substitute artificial vaccines for natural immunity, serious problems can arise. In fact, there is credible evidence that suggests at least a few of the current crop of major diseases may be linked to the indiscriminate use of vaccines, which have weakened people's immune systems.

They also pointed out that the vaccines do not have a good track record for long-term effectiveness. The measles vaccine is a perfect example. It was introduced in 1963 and, for a few years, the incidence of measles dropped. But, by 1983, the rate had been increasing again. Now, 40% of all new cases of measles are in people who have been vaccinated! The medical response to this obvious failure of the vaccine was to encourage parents to have their children subjected to a second dose.

Finally, they argued that the vaccines are potentially dangerous, and to prove the point had only to show the statistics for the number of children killed or injured by vaccine reactions. Even the U.S. government couldn't overlook the dangers. However, instead of trying to search for an alternative to risky vaccine drugs, it merely set up a fund to pay off the victims.

In 1986, it established the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to "reimburse" victims of mandatory vaccines and their parents. More than $916 million has already been awarded even though, as a Gannett News Service investigative report revealed, only one-third of all death claims have been settled.

Most of all, however, they argued that the real issue at stake was their right to refuse medical treatment that they felt was not beneficial — and, as parents, their right to protect their children from such treatment.

It is supposed to be a standard practice in the medical community to inform patients of the dangers involved in any medication or procedure. After all, the law requires drug companies to list side effects in their ads (even though they print them so small no one can read them). It requires doctors to discuss the risks of upcoming surgical procedures with patients preparing to go under the knife.

Yet, when was the last time your family pediatrician advised you that vaccines could make your children seriously or even fatally ill? When school kids are lining up for "vaccine day," why aren't parents handed pamphlets discussing the side effects of the drugs being given out?

For years, these health care advocates were drowned out by the pro-vaccine contingent, who called them everything from extremists to "quacks."

Things are slightly different today. More and more studies are proving these "extremists" have good reason to be concerned and even the medical profession can't ignore the evidence that many vaccines are either not effective or are risky — or both!

In the past few months, several medical organizations have actually come out in opposition to certain vaccines, or to the idea of mandatory vaccination.

This summer, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) called for an immediate moratorium on mandatory hepatitis B vaccines for schoolchildren, pending further research on dangerous side effects.

But it didn't oppose just this one vaccine. It argued that mandatory vaccination programs in general were a violation of a patient's right to make his or her own health decision. It went so far as to accuse school districts that require the shots of practising medicine without a licence.

The AAPS also said it "suspected financial ties between vaccine manufacturers and medical groups such as the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics" and pointed to a substantial donation from Merck & Co. to the latter group.

The AAPS and other medical organizations that have had the courage to speak out against the drug companies and their allies are to be applauded. Those of us who have championed the patient's "right to choose" and fought against mandatory vaccination programs appreciate any help we can get.

It amazes me, though, that so many people will only listen to such information if it is delivered by a medical doctor or group. If a non-medical health practitioner — or an informed layperson — tells them something, they disregard it, no matter how much evidence is presented as proof. If, on the other hand, a medical doctor proclaims something, they accept it without question.

It's great that the times are changing and more physicians are opening their eyes to the dangers inherent in vaccines. Still, the health care system will never really be reformed until parents and patients open their eyes and realize the medical and drug industries don't have all the answers.

Only then will they begin to demand — and get — the information they need to make decisions regarding their health care and the health care of their loved ones.

As president of the World Chiropractic Alliance, I have witnessed many battles between alternative health care and organized medicine. Prestigious publications such as The NEXT CITY allowing alternative views to circulate is an indication of the current change in the status quo. Barbara Loe Fisher has done her homework, and we should all support her efforts at the National Vaccine Information Center. B. J. Palmer, the developer of the chiropractic profession (the son of a Canadian who discovered chiropractic, D. D. Palmer), once stated, "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." Fisher represents the enlightened minority. A big thank you to The NEXT CITY editors for allowing the candle to be lit.